Finnish Education

| Fri Dec. 12, 2008 2:16 PM EST

FINNISH EDUCATION....Matt Yglesias, no doubt after knocking back a few shots of vodka in a Helsinki sauna during his "educational" junket to Finland, reports that teaching programs are much more competitive in Finland than in the U.S.:

It's a bit hard to say what accounts for the strong level of interest in a teaching career in Finland. Finnish teacher compensation seems about average for the US [but] the relative salary is higher because other professionals such as lawyers and doctors earn less in Finland than do their US equivalents. And the subjective quality of the job experience seems better in Finland since the kids have many fewer discipline issues.

I guess it's not so hard to say after all. This seems like a pretty adequate explanation to me, and unfortunately it also demonstrates why international comparisons are so often unhelpful. We're not going to slash the pay of lawyers and doctors, after all (though Wall Street brokers better watch their Armani-clad backs), and there's no way that teacher salaries will ever rise high enough to be competitive with current salaries in those professions. And "discipline issues," which covers a very wide territory indeed, is only partly amenable to work in the classroom itself. Inner city poverty and the bane of broken families have to be largely addressed elsewhere.

Still, it reminds me of this story from earlier in the year about a school in Washington Heights that plans to pay teachers $125,000 or more as a way of recruiting a top notch faculty and turning it loose in a poor school. I remain uncertain what this will prove, since even if it works it's not really replicable on a wide scale, but it's still interesting. Perhaps we'll create a little slice of Finland in the middle of New York City.